It’s not easy to be Christian in today’s world. It seems that those who treat their neighbors as stepping stones prosper, that those who seek pleasure have the most fun, and those who disregard even the natural law flourish.
It is natural, perhaps, to feel as if we should be rewarded in this life for our obedience to God. And yet so often it feels the exact opposite. I know several couples who did everything in accordance with natural and divine law as they waited for marriage. They waited patiently for a godly spouse, they lived chastely while waiting for that spouse, and they prayed and sacrificed. Once they met their spouse they lived chastely while dating and in engagement, praying and yearning to start a family… only to struggle to conceive children of their own once they were married. My first reaction is to shake my fist and ask why. Why do the obedient seem to have the struggles they do not deserve?
Newly-minted converts or reverts to the Faith often find that life doesn’t get easier after coming or returning to the Church. It gets harder. Why?
One thinks of the famous quip of St. Teresa of Avila, which may or may not be true, in which after experiencing several trials and possibly even a fall in the mud, said exasperatingly to God, “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder why you have so few of them!”
It’s hard for us to wrap our minds around the fact that our obedience and docility is so often rewarded with pain and suffering.
But what do we expect from a religion who worships a God who was brutally beaten and executed?
At a recent RCIA class, I was speaking to a man coming into the Church, and he pointed to a crucifix. He said as soon as he walked into a Catholic church and saw we depicted Christ on the cross, he wanted to be Catholic. At first I was surprised, since many of our non-Catholic brothers and sisters balk at depicting Christ crucified. Rather than accusing us of idolatry or statue-worship or of denying the resurrection, this man recognized the power of keeping Christ’s sacrifice before our eyes.
A Protestant theologian wrote, “It is a matter of historical fact that the use of the crucifix as an aid to prayer has encouraged people to equate devotion with brooding over Christ’s bodily sufferings; it has made them morbid about the spiritual value of physical pain, and it has kept them from knowledge of the risen Savior.”
My personal experience has been the exact opposite. It hasn’t made me morbid or obsessed with His suffering. Instead, it’s given me the answer to mine. It hasn’t kept me from knowledge of my Savior—it has deepened my friendship with Him.
Jesus doesn’t want us to “brood” over his bodily sufferings, but if He never wanted us to meditate on His Passion, why would He have accepted it? If we view the events of Good Friday as an unfortunate occurrence because Jesus was in the wrong place at the wrong time that Thursday night in the Garden and then failed to defend himself on Friday, well, then perhaps we would want to forget they happened and concentrate on Sunday.
But we can’t have the Resurrection without the Cross. And we can’t forget that Christ chose death; it wasn’t forced upon Him. “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again” (John 10:18). He could have saved us any way he pleased. Why did He choose to suffer?
Because we do. We suffer in a variety of ways every day of our lives. As soon as we turned away from God in the Garden, we placed ourselves under the yoke of suffering. Christ wants to save us by sharing that yoke with us.
The Cross is not an afterthought to our faith. We follow a Savior who was crucified. Does this seem ridiculous to some? If it does, nothing has changed in two thousand years. (See 1 Cor 1:18-25). He did not come to take away my suffering- ultimately, why even the obedient suffer is a mystery. But He did come to suffer with us, and give that suffering of ours immense power when united to His.
Why do I use a crucifix to aid my prayer? So I never forget that in this vale of suffering, I have a Savior. And that Savior suffered too.